How world No. 1 Iga Swiatek cracked tennis code

Analysis How world No. 1 Iga Swiatek cracked tennis code
Poland's Iga Swiatek poses with the Suzanne-Lenglen trophy at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim in Paris. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2022

How world No. 1 Iga Swiatek cracked tennis code

How world No. 1 Iga Swiatek cracked tennis code
  • French Open triumph extended Pole’s winning streak to 35 matches, meaning 21-year-old heads to Wimbledon having won last 6 tournaments

RIYADH: Just over a week ago, an exhausted Iga Swiatek sat down with a small group of journalists in a quiet corner of the media center under the Philippe Chatrier stadium at Roland Garros to discuss her feelings after lifting the second Grand Slam trophy of her young career.

The world No. 1 engaged in some idle chat before everyone assembled for the roundtable. She spoke about heading to the nearby Bois de Boulogne – a public park close to Roland Garros – at least four or five times during the tournament fortnight, where she tried to connect with nature and relax on her days off.

She expressed an interest in attending the next day’s men’s final between her idol Rafael Nadal and Norwegian Casper Ruud and wondered if it would be a long showdown.

Swiatek’s own French Open final that afternoon, against American teenager Coco Gauff, had lasted just 68 minutes.

That triumph on Parisian clay saw Swiatek extend her current winning streak to 35 matches, the joint-longest unbeaten run in women’s tennis this century. Only two tennis players have put together longer winning streaks in the 2000s: Novak Djokovic (43) and Roger Federer (41).

The 21-year-old from Poland has won her last six consecutive tournaments – she has not lost a match since February – and heads to Wimbledon later this month a class apart from the rest of the field.

Swiatek sits atop the women’s rankings with a total of 8,631 points; her closest rival, world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit is over 4,000 points adrift.

A fascinating young mind that loves math and probability and travels the tennis tour with a sports psychologist that has given her the tools to gain a mental edge over her competitors on court, Swiatek gave some insight into how she has been approaching these past few months, how she handled the pressure in Paris, and where her greater ambitions lie.

She feels like she has cracked the code

The way Swiatek assumed the role of world No. 1 so seamlessly after Ashleigh Barty’s surprise retirement in March has been remarkable. Be it from the mental side of the sport or the technical aspects of the game, it seems Swiatek has somehow cracked the code of tennis.

When she is in trouble on court, she finds a way to solve the problem and comes out on top. In the face of immense pressure, she rises above it.

From the outside, it looks as though Swiatek currently has the cheat codes for the game in her back pocket and that she has an answer for whatever comes her way. Does it feel that way for her?

She said: “Yes, I do, and that’s great, because I’ve never felt like that before, and it gives a lot in terms of just being confident and not being so scared.

“Because I was scared a lot before matches; I still do sometimes but it’s much, much better to know I can come up with solutions and really solve problems. It’s totally different.”

 

 

She is not short on motivation

Swiatek enjoyed a strong start to 2022, making the semi-finals at the Australian Open thanks to adopting a more aggressive game that has helped her become a force on hard courts, alongside her beloved clay.

When she won Doha, Indian Wells, and Miami back-to-back-to-back, she became the first player to ever win the first three Women’s Tennis Association 1000-level tournaments of the season. In the process, she also became No. 1 in the world.

For some, that might be a lot to digest, and it would have been understandable had Swiatek taken some time to adjust to her new position at the top. But she did not, and instead, she dug deep and kept on winning, sweeping her next tournaments in Stuttgart, Rome, and Paris.

Was it hard to stay motivated throughout that dominant stretch?

“I only played like one smaller tournament in Stuttgart, and you know what’s the prize there, so I guess it wasn’t that hard to get motivated,” she added, referring to the Porsche she won by virtue of capturing the title in the German city.

“I’m that kind of person that I always want to win honestly and I’m not going to let go and I’m not going to say, ‘oh I’m tired, so let’s accept that maybe I’m going to lose,’ because I always want to win and I’m going to do everything always to win. So, it just happened.”

That mentality certainly explains a lot.

 

 

She carved her own path

Even though she won her first Grand Slam at the age of 19, Swiatek did not spend her teens believing she could actually achieve everything she has been achieving over the past couple of years.

After defeating 18-year-old Gauff in Paris last week, she highlighted how different her journey had been compared to the young American and noted how evolved Gauff’s career was compared to her own when she was her age.

On the French Open finalist, who is at a career-high No. 13 in the world this week, Swiatek said: “I feel like she’s doing everything quicker than most of the players and I’m pretty sure that she’s going to get here someday and win a Grand Slam, because I feel she was raised to do that. I hope she’s going to keep it going.”

So, was Swiatek raised to do that too?

“I don’t think so. That’s a hard one. I don’t think so because my journey from the beginning is what my dad thought was the best; and he made really good choices and really bad choices sometimes, but it wasn’t like I had 10 people around me telling us how to deal with everything and what to do.

“We had to choose our own path and for sure we got really lucky that he made some good decisions and I had good coaches at the beginning; because honestly we didn’t have any system that could help us,” she added.

She never thought she would reach the top

Swiatek’s vision for her own career at 18 was to try and earn more money from the sport and to be as professional as she could be.

She said: “For sure I wanted to win some more money. I was pretty disappointed because I always felt I could do better.

“I was raised to actually maybe be professional and to always have this kind of need to get better, which is sometimes not helpful, because when you’re a perfectionist, it can push you down.

“But basically, it was pretty hard for me to think that I’m going to be world No. 1 because just thinking logically, when you take my country; how many people have succeeded (in tennis)? It was only Agnieszka (Radwanska) basically. So, the probability of me actually becoming a tennis superstar was pretty small.

“I like math and my brain usually thinks about probability so I felt that maybe it was not a sure thing, and it would be hard to make it happen. I always had a plan B, even when I was 18. I still went to high school, and I was really focused on that. I felt like I was working two jobs at a time and even in 2020, I still felt like I needed a plan B if tennis was not going to work out. I’ve never felt like I was raised to do that,” she added.

Swiatek ended 2020 as a Grand Slam champion.

She wishes Ash were still around

When three-time major champion Barty announced her sudden retirement in March, Swiatek cried for several hours, feeling confused and unsure about what it all meant.

Three months later, Swiatek has taken her own game to incredible heights and admits she wishes Barty was still around so she could face her in her current top form.

“I was thinking about that the other day. I would have loved to be in a better shape than I was when I was playing against her and just have more variety and more abilities and to win against Ash; that would have been great.”

 

 

Her next big goal?

When Swiatek won her first Roland Garros in 2020, she stood on center court to give her victory speech and said she hoped she could one day show that there can be consistency at the top of the women’s tour.

The depth in field has led to lots of turbulence at the highest level in the WTA in recent years but Barty managed to hold the No. 1 ranking for 121 weeks before retiring, and Swiatek has not lost a match since the Australian passed her the baton.

With that goal of bringing consistency to the women’s game already crossed off her list, what was Swiatek’s next big target?

She said: “I don’t know, I’m not going to lie, it’s not like I have everything planned and every goal ready. I always wanted to win every Grand Slam, maybe I’m going to stick to that.

“But I just want to take everything tournament by tournament and we’re going to see. I have my goals off court, like trying to get tennis more popular in Poland and maybe providing some facilities for younger players. I know better what I want to do more than what comes up on Wikipedia after typing my name. But for sure winning all four Grand Slams would be nice.”

With the steady mindset she has adopted so far, it is fair to assume Swiatek will hit her targets both on the court and off it.

 

 

Mastering the grass

Although she is a former Wimbledon junior champion, Swiatek admits she has yet to unlock her full potential on the surface. She has only played the women’s event at the All England Club twice, losing in the first round in 2019 and reaching the fourth round last year.

Her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski enjoyed great success with his former player Radwanska at Wimbledon (he guided her to the final in 2012, and the semis in 2013, and 2015) and Swiatek believes he can help her figure out the grass in due time.

“My only thought (heading into Wimbledon) is I want to get ready and learn how to play on grass better and this is the only thing I’m going to be focusing on.

“For sure Wimbledon is special but for me the most important thing is to bring a good performance and I still haven’t reached the comfortable feeling on grass, so that’s going to be my only goal.

“I don’t want to think about other stuff because this comes first and with good results and good performances, things are going to come,” she added.


Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia
Updated 10 August 2022

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia
  • New centers will be in Jouf, Hail, Al-Hudud Ash Shamaliyah and Al-Baha

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is set to establish four new regional associations to help promote the sport across the Kingdom.

The federation told Arab News on Wednesday that is has 15 official associations representing the sport in nine regions, but aims to establish new associations in the remaining four regions “to make sure that we have future cricket activities all around the Kingdom.”

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, with the national teams taking on world’s best.

In recent years, the SACF has introduced several competitions and programs to encourage the country’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

In October 2021, it signed an agreement with sports management company JSW Sports to develop cricket in Saudi Arabia, focusing on high-performance academies.

The SACF was established in 2020 and lined up a series of major initiatives the following year, including a national cricket championship, a corporate cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social program in several cities.

The initiatives are part of a mission to promote healthy and active lifestyles under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life scheme, with the SACF — supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

In November, the SACF partnered with Saudi’s Sports For All Federation to launch the Kingdom’s first cricket talent-spotting program.


FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier
Updated 10 August 2022

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier
  • FIFA is looking at a plan to let the host nation play Ecuador on Nov. 20
  • The World Cup is set to open on Nov. 21 with the Netherlands facing Senegal

GENEVA: Host nation Qatar is set to play in the opening game of its own World Cup tournament after all — and on a stand-alone day being added to the schedule barely 100 days before kickoff.
Soccer’s marquee tournament is now set start one day earlier than originally scheduled seven years ago in a move that would allow Qatar to play Ecuador on Nov. 20, a person familiar with the proposal told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The proposal will be put before a committee comprised of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the heads of the six continental soccer bodies, the person said. A decision is expected this week.
According to a letter sent by FIFA this week and seen by the AP, the governing body is asking for approval from the continental soccer bodies by Thursday.
Qatar should now get an exclusive Sunday slot for its opening ceremony and World Cup debut at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium.
The World Cup is currently scheduled to start on Nov. 21, a Monday, based on a FIFA decision in 2015 after it agreed to push back the tournament to avoid the extreme desert heat in June and July. FIFA also got agreement for a shorter, 28-day program to minimize disruption to domestic soccer, especially in Europe, which will shut down ahead of the World Cup.
Recent World Cup tradition gave 2014 host Brazil and 2018 host Russia exclusive opening days to play their first opponents. But the tighter schedule in Qatar called for four games daily for the entire group stage — 48 games in 12 days.
At the tournament draw in Doha on April 1, the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador landed in Group A with Qatar. The Dutch and Senegal were allocated the 1 p.m. local time start and Qatar was to play Ecuador in the third game with an evening kickoff six hours later.
The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of 28 has been favored by Qatari officials and South American soccer body CONMEBOL, with talks also involving the Qatar and Ecuador soccer federations, the person told the AP.
FIFA acknowledged in its letter that changing the date, after tickets have been sold, would affect some traveling fans. However, FIFA said “any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposal” commercially.
A Qatar-Ecuador game involves only a few players who are with European clubs. Several on the likely Ecuador roster play for clubs in Spain, the United States and Mexico, where leagues stop play ahead of the Nov. 12-13 weekend.
The schedule switch would have been tougher to agree to if Qatar was scheduled to open against the Netherlands, which has key members playing until Nov. 13 with clubs in England and Italy.
Because of the proposal, FIFA is expected to push back the Netherlands-Senegal from the lunchtime start to the early evening slot that would be vacated by Qatar.
While an opening game on a Sunday evening in Qatar should play well with viewers in Asia and Europe, in the United States it puts the World Cup in direct competition with NFL games. The US soccer team plays its World Cup opener against Wales as the late Monday game in Qatar.
The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be played outside of the traditional northern hemisphere summer. The previous 21 editions were all played between late-May and the end of July.
The Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament schedule was agreed to so European clubs could play on the Nov. 12-13 weekend before releasing their players to the 32 World Cup teams. Changing opening day should not alter the tournament rule that players must report from their clubs to national teams no later than Nov. 14, FIFA said in its letter.
The final will be played on Qatar’s National Day, a Sunday, allowing a full week for players to return to clubs before the Premier League plays its traditional Boxing Day games on Dec. 26.
Qatar original bid was made to host the tournament in June-July, promising innovative stadium cooling technology to overcome heat expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) during the first World Cup held in the Middle East.
In December 2010, Qatar won a controversial bid contest beating the United States 14-8 in a final round of voting by the FIFA executive committee, a group later widely discredited by corruption scandals.
More than four years later, FIFA moved the tournament to be played on dates when temperatures should be around 25 to 30 degrees C (77 to 86 degrees F).
Now, a further seven years later, the dates are set to change again.


SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football
Updated 10 August 2022

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football
  • The new app was officially launched through a collaboration between SAFF and Sportradar Integrity Services
  • The SAFF Integrity Unit will be responsible for handling reports received through the app

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced the launch of the SAFF Integrity mobile app, which allows players, officials and members of the public to report suspected match-fixing, match-manipulation or other integrity concerns in a safe and secure manner.
The SAFF Integrity mobile app, available in both Arabic and English, was established in collaboration with Sportradar Integrity Services.
The launch comes just in time for the start of the 2022-2023 season and will further support the work of the SAFF Integrity Unit, composed of experienced lawyers from the federation’s legal and governance department.
The SAFF Integrity Unit will be responsible for handling reports received through the app, investigating credible reports and initiating any necessary disciplinary procedures under the disciplinary and ethics regulations.
The new platform, which is closely modeled on the FIFA Integrity and AFC Integrity mobile apps, is one of a range of tools acquired by SAFF to combat match-fixing under a partnership agreement signed with Sportradar Integrity Services. It will further strengthen SAFF’s efforts in promoting and safeguarding the integrity of football in the Kingdom.
“Safeguarding the integrity of Saudi Arabian football is one of the biggest priorities at SAFF, and in looking to achieve this, we are delighted to be working with Sportradar Integrity Services, who are the clear leaders in the particular field of sports integrity,” said Ibrahim Alkassim, general secretary at SAFF.
“Monitoring services provided by their team of experts through the [Universal Fraud Detection System] will strengthen our existing integrity measures, whilst the Education and Prevention webinars will ensure that all stakeholders are adequately and appropriately educated in how best to tackle integrity challenges.”
As part of the agreement, several football competitions organized by SAFF will be monitored by Sportradar’s UFDS, a technically advanced bet monitoring system that has been independently assessed and verified by recognized experts in sports betting and integrity. Sportradar Integrity Services will also provide SAFF with an integrity risk assessment to identify any potential integrity risks.
In addition, teams, players, match officials and other key SAFF staff and stakeholders will also be educated on the importance of integrity via a series of informative webinars delivered in both English and Arabic. Players and officials from teams participating in the 2021-2022 Saudi Pro League were the first group to have attended the webinars, followed by SAFF staff members.
Sportradar Integrity Services Managing Director Andreas Krannich said: “It is an honor to partner with SAFF, and as the global leader in sporting integrity, we are confident that our experience and expertise can help protect SAFF against integrity-related issues. We look forward to working alongside them throughout the next few years and providing our support to their overall integrity program.”


Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival
Updated 10 August 2022

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival
  • Al-Ahly and Zamalek are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches
  • Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly

CAIRO: An Egyptian appeals court has sentenced the president of Zamalek football club to a month in prison for insulting the president of bitter rivals Al-Ahly, a judicial source told AFP on Wednesday.
Al-Ahly and Zamalek, the country’s two biggest clubs and among the continent’s most successful, are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches.
The 70-year-old Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud Al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly and a former star player, and his family in a video posted on social networks and on Zamalek’s club channel.
On Wednesday, Mansour’s sentence was reduced to one month in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (500 euros).
A former magistrate and member of parliament, Mansour is regularly in the news. He has had a long-running battle with Al-Ahly and has physically attack his counterparts.
His parliamentary immunity had for a while enabled him to avoid legal proceedings after complaints of insults and defamation.
In 2007, he was sentenced to three years in jail by a criminal court in Cairo for “insulting” court officials and levelling accusations of corruption against them.


Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad
Updated 10 August 2022

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad
  • Magpies’ boss delighted with competition for places that new signing has brought to St. James’ Park
  • The Magpies currently have four senior keepers on their books

NEWCASTLE: Head coach Eddie Howe has admitted he will have to trim his Newcastle United squad this month — and one of his goalkeepers looks to be most at risk.
The Magpies currently have four senior keepers on their books, with summer signing Nick Pope claiming the No. 1 slot from Martin Dubravka for the start of the Premier League season.
Beyond that, former No. 1 Karl Darlow and ex-Motherwell keeper Mark Gillespie are the other two senior players in that position who currently find themselves out of the first-team frame.
While Newcastle named four keepers in their 25-man Premier League squad at the start of last season — Dubravka, Darlow, Gillespie and recently departed Freddie Woodman — due to illness and injury, Howe accepts doing so this season seems an unlikely prospect, especially with the intent to still sign at least two more outfield players before the close of the transfer window on Sept. 1.
When asked whether one will leave, he said: “It’s too early to say. I don’t know. Certainly, I wouldn’t want anyone to leave, but I’m well aware four is a difficult number to carry.
“My wish would be to do that, but obviously I’ve got to think of the players as well. Hopefully we’ll make the right decision.”
While Pope left Burnley to play in the Premier League, no doubt with promises of first-team football ahead of the World Cup this winter, there was still a degree of surprise on Tyneside that fan favorite Dubravka did not retain his spot in Howe’s starting 11.
The head coach said it was no easy decision to pick who started the season between the sticks, with Howe keen to praise Newcastle’s weekend understudy.
“It was a very, very, very difficult decision,” said Howe.
“I’ve got three quality goalkeepers to pick from in Karl, Nick and Martin, who, last season, was excellent.
“Certainly, my decision to pick Nick wasn’t a reflection on him (Dubravka). It was more of a reflection on Nick and how good I think he is.
“I thought he was excellent (against Nottingham Forest on debut), his ability to come for crosses. He commanded his box very well and kicked well, so I was really pleased with him. He didn’t have a lot to do with his hands, which is a good sign.
“There’s competition for places in that position as well, and I think that strength will help us through the season.”
Another big call by Howe was to leave out the Magpies’ big summer signing Sven Botman.
The Netherlands youth international arrived at St. James’ Park this summer following a six-month chase for the player, and it had been widely expected that Botman would slot straight into the side alongside weekend goalscorer Fabian Schar.
But Howe instead opted to field January signing Dan Burn at center-back, rewarding his remarkable end-of-season form with the shirt.
Explaining the decision, Howe said: “They were excellent in the second half of last season, I have to say, together with Jamaal (Lascelles), who more than played his part.
“All three center-backs, for me, were excellent, but we needed more strength in depth, we couldn’t rely on just three this season. Federico Fernandez has had his injury problems, so we felt it was a position we needed to strengthen.
“Sven was a long-term target for us. We were delighted to sign him. But I think this period, however long it is before he gets his opportunity to start, will do him a world of good. He will get to know the league, the speed, and I’ve got no doubts about him as a player.
“He’ll be a top player for this football club, but there’s real competition for places. Dan, Fabian and Jamaal — they’re not going to give up their shirts easily. That’s a battle I love to see. Knowing I’ve got that quality certainly bodes well for the season.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle are set to be without midfielder Jonjo Shelvey for much of the first half of the season after he went under the knife to fix a hamstring problem.
Shelvey limped out of United’s 3-2 friendly loss to Benfica last month and at the weekend traveled to London for an operation to fix the issue.
Howe knows how much of a loss the experienced former Liverpool and England man will be — and it may even color his transfer strategy in the final weeks of the window.
Speaking about Shelvey’s absence following the Magpies’ 2-0 win over Forest at the weekend, Howe said: “We had to work without Jonjo because he’s injured. We work very hard on all principles of our play, so the midfield dynamic without Jonjo is very different.
“Jonjo is such a unique individual and player. He can pass the ball from anywhere on the pitch to almost create a goal in any position that he receives the ball.
“Bruno Guimaraes is very different but still equally effective. He was very good today. He had a difficult job because he had Jesse Lingard to contain, so it was an interesting battle and I thought Bruno did very well.”
Newcastle currently have Guimaraes, Sean Longstaff, Joelinton, Joe Willock and youngsters Elliot Anderson and Matty Longstaff to choose from in midfield but are understood to have asked Chelsea about the availability of Conor Gallagher in recent days.